Justice Brett Kavanaugh hears his first high court case without interruptions

October 9, 2018

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh didn’t hold back during his first case on the bench, lobbing a handful of questions at the attorneys who argued before the high court Tuesday morning.

Coming out of a contentious partisan confirmation process, court watchers predicted Justice Kavanaugh would be quiet during his first few days on the bench, but he ended up probing both sides.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer and Justice Clarence Thomas remained mum, while Justice Kavanaugh’s number of inquiries rivaled Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.

Tuesday’s first case concerned whether a man used enough physical force in a 1997 robbery conviction in Florida for it to be considered a “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act, which imposes elevated sentences on defendants with three prior felony convictions.

Nearly 30 minutes into the one-hour argument, Justice Kavanaugh posed two questions to the attorney representing Denard Stokeling, the man who was convicted in 1997 of three felonies, one being unarmed robbery.

Stokeling subsequently burglarized a restaurant in Miami in 2015 and was charged with unlawfully processing a firearm. Since he had three prior convictions, the government argued he qualified for enhanced sentencing under the Armed Career Criminal Act, but Stokeling contends the unarmed robbery shouldn’t count against him as a violent felony.

The new justice later asked the government’s attorney three questions without appearing to tip his hand in favor of one party or the other.

No protesters interrupted Justice Kavanaugh during his inquiries, a stark contrast to his confirmation hearings across the street in the Capitol. The court had fenced off the stairs, preventing any protesters from charging the court.

Retired Justice Anthony M. Kennedy sat in the courtroom watching his replacement. Justice Kavanaugh’s wife, daughters and parents were also present.

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